A college in Michigan has decided to allow harsh criticisms of President Bush to be posted on university property, but has banned criticism of violent terrorists and abortion, according to an educational rights group that is challenging the school’s practice.
The issue involves Lake Superior State University in Sault St. Marie, which has ordered Professor Richard Crandall, a nearly 40-year veteran of teaching, to remove the expressions of opinion from his office door and practice his academic freedom with "responsibility."
"LSSU is displaying serious disrespect for faculty rights by demanding that Professor Crandall remove materials about public concerns from his office door," said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "The political double standard in this case is striking."
Crandall has been teaching at LSSU since 1969, and has adorned his office door—as have other professors—with various political cartoons and postings. His, however, were all of a conservative leaning, FIRE noted.
His postings have included a photograph of President Ronald Reagan, a cartoon mocking Vice President Cheney’s hunting accident in 2006, cartoons addressing Islamic terrorism and abortion, among others.
But the university said it had received a complaint about the postings, and while keeping details about the concern secret, on March 12, 2007, ordered Crandall to take down the display, threatening him with "insubordination" if he failed to comply with the censorship.
Crandall acquiesced to the restrictions imposed by Provost Bruce Harger, but then turned to FIRE for help in restoring his right of free expression.
FIRE wrote to Betty Youngblood, who was president of LSSU at the time, suggesting that such actions constituted viewpoint discrimination since other professors were allowed their cartoons.
"An outside law firm responded to FIRE on behalf of the university, insisting that LSSU has not infringed on Crandall’s First Amendment rights and absurdly declaring that Crandall’s displays would somehow threaten the civil rights of LSSU community members," FIRE said.
"LSSU’s embarrassingly poor grasp of the law and its obvious viewpoint discrimination against Professor Crandall are clear indicators that, like too many of America’s universities, LSSU is ready to abandon fundamental rights in the name of making some students or faculty feel ‘comfortable.’ Yet the right to free expression exists to allow people to challenge the beliefs of others – even if this leads to discomfort," said Robert Shibley, vice president for FIRE.
"It’s time for LSSU to acknowledge the Professor Crandall has the same right to express himself as any other LSSU professor," he said.
WND attempts to reach LSSU officials for a comment were unsuccessful.
The school had warned the professor: "The materials that you posted were inappropriate and you are not to post these materials or any similar materials on university property, including both the door and the wall surrounding the door… Removal of materials followed by replacement with new materials at a later date constitutes insubordination."
But FIRE noted such actions are common, "including at LSSU."
"Other professors on Crandall’s floor have posted materials such as a Far Side cartoon, a bumper sticker reading ‘Honor Veterans; No More War,’ and a twelve-point list outlining how President Bush’s election was a result of corruption, among many other expressions of personal beliefs. As those professors have been granted the right to post materials as they see fit—most of which are not germane to the subjects those professors teach—so should Crandall, a political conservative, be allowed to post items reflecting his ideological viewpoints," FIRE said.
"The speech in question here—a form of political commentary comprising the very heart of the expression the First Amendment exists to protect—simply does not meet the exacting demands of this precise and well-established legal standard," FIRE said.
FIRE is an educational foundation that works on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression and rights of conscience on America’s campuses.